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Video games are becoming more accessible — and games are better for it

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In the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the field of video game accessibility. Developers of all sizes have incorporated accessibility features into their games, whether indie darlings like tunic or major AAA releases like god of war ragnorok, As for hardware, Xbox released its adaptive controller in 2018, and PlayStation recently announced Project Leonardo, which will be the company’s effort to bring more accessible controllers to the PlayStation 5. The conversation about who gets into video games, and how people play video games, has never been more relevant.

Behind these great releases is the work of accessibility advocates who consult and advise on these games, paving the way for games to become more disability-friendly and available to a wider audience. Sometimes companies also hire specialized organizations to serve as an advisor during hardware development, or to speak up when issues arise. And now an awards show is acknowledging this work when it happens, celebrating accessibility in video games.

Enter the Game Accessibility Conference Awards.

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The awards were initiated by the Game Accessibility Conference, a conference explicitly dedicated to video game developers interested in broadening their knowledge on accessibility in games. The awards – which recognize the work of those who “raise the bar for access” – cover 18 categories and cover work in a variety of areas such as academic research, publishers doing pioneering work in access and representation.

this year, god of war ragnarok Took home awards in the AAA Excellence and Best Deaf/HoH Accessibility categories. Nominations are shortlisted by a panel, with the final selection chosen by a combination of public and jury vote. To learn more about the awards, and what the future of game accessibility looks like, Play Gamez interviewed Tara Volker, Co-Director of the Game Accessibility Conference Awards and Senior Xbox Game Studios Accessibility Lead. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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Play Gamez: How do you measure what makes a game accessible? (I imagine it’s difficult and complicated.)

star: Identifying what makes a game accessible is both simple and complex. At its core, a game is accessible when gamers with disabilities can play it. However, different gamers have different needs and different constraints that prevent them from being able to play. A title may be incredibly accessible to deaf/hard of hearing gamers but completely inaccessible to those who are blind. That’s the complicated part.

To properly assess whether something is accessible to a group of gamers, you need to understand their needs and verify that those needs are met. For example, for a game to be accessible to people with colorblindness, you make sure that any important information is not shown only by color and is supported by shape, pattern or text. Honestly, it’s still pretty rare that a game is actually accessible to everyone at once.

An image of Kratos fighting Freya in Gods of Ragnarok.  Kratos is highlighted with opaque blue and Freya is highlighted with opaque red.  You can clearly differentiate the two different dark and snowy setting.

Image: Santa Monica Studio / Sony Interactive Entertainment

What makes an “accessible game” accessible?

An accessible game is one that has thoughtfully thought about barriers that might prevent gamers with disabilities from playing, and avoids them altogether or has the option to remove them. As a game developer, you know what experience you want to give players, and the goal is to make sure people can have that experience.

For example, the challenge of a racing game is to get your car around the track as fast as possible. The challenge shouldn’t be struggling to hit the gas on the correct trigger button on the controller as your hand dexterity is limited. This additional challenge can be removed by allowing the player to remap gas to the A button. No more trigger button struggle and you can start running.

I understand this is a vague idea, and how it appears may vary per title.

How have you seen games accessibility change over the years?

The reach of sports has grown massively over time. When I first started in gaming, there were no full-time accessibility jobs in gaming. Absolutely. And now there are many, both at the studio and publisher levels. When accessibility first started gaining momentum, developers were rewarded and praised for things like colorblind filters, but now they’re expected, and you’ll get a lot of complaints when you don’t have them. .

Accessibility in games is on an exponential growth trajectory, and the growth of accessible titles we’ve seen over the past few years is truly amazing. The most exciting thing is that the idea of ​​accessibility is shifting to the fore in the game development process. For several years, the access was retrofitted. A game would be created and then the devs would see how many accessibility “holes” they could patch. Some of these holes were unusable for reasons decided earlier in development. Now we are completely avoiding making these holes.

Lechak reading a map from Return to Monkey Island.  He's dressed like a pirate and you can see his desk lit by a candle as he writes.

Image: Devolver Digital

Why is it important to celebrate the work being done in this area?

Although accessibility is increasing, it is still largely an advocate-driven space. In many situations, it may still take a lot of emotional labor to ensure that accessibility is a concern during development. This is real work. We want everyone working for accessibility to know they are appreciated and to have a moment for players to see the impact they make. Not only will this boost their spirits and recharge them for the next fight, but it will be easier to win next time when they can point and say, “Well, look at this award and recognition…”

Is there anything else you would like to share with us today?

Gaming has a lot of benefits and is actually a part of pop culture. Gamers with disabilities deserve to be a part of the gaming space, and our games only get better when we consider their needs in development. Accessibility features aren’t just used by people who identify as disabled, they’re used by gamers everywhere.

The easiest way to make sure a game is accessible is simply to get feedback from gamers with disabilities. There are plenty out there who want to play your game and will tell you why they can’t. talk to them!

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